For the last few years, when my family takes vacations we have been swapping homes with people in the cities we visit. We did our first home swap a few years ago in San Francisco, last year we swapped with a couple in Paris, and this summer we’re swapping with families in Hamburg and Bergen, Norway.
It’s an amazing way to travel. Free accommodations mean that we can stay in expensive cities for longer. Being in a home means more space for us to enjoy than a hotel room affords, and we enjoy neighborhoods in cities we would not otherwise spend time in. We feel more like locals when we’re far from home.
Home-swapping makes me think of my early enthusiasm for the Sharing Economy. I still love the idea of sharing the idle capacity of things you own with other people, and owning things collectively through a co-op-like structure. This form of sharing creates reciprocal relationships and community, and reduces the need for so much stuff to be produced and consumed.
In the early days of the Sharing Economy, I was a major proponent of what this could mean for communities, for greater equity and environmental sustainability. I was surprised by how quickly the sharing economy gave way to value-extracting businesses like Uber and AirBnB.
I spend a lot of my working hours trying to ensure that we have a more equitable and sustainable local economy. I think about the velocity of money within a local economy so money recirculates and has a multiplier effect, creating more equitable distribution. Companies like Uber do provide work, but it is contract work, lacking the benefits that allow people a higher quality of life. In addition, profits are extracted out of local economies and into maximizing shareholder of people well outside where the work takes place.
I don’t use AirBnB anymore because I see the devastating effect it has on cities like Vancouver which have a housing crunch and near zero rental vacancy rates. I see in my own neighbourhood of Strathcona in Vancouver the rental units that used to provide stable, long-term rental to individuals and families get permanently taken off the market and turned into more profitable AirBnB accommodation. This isn’t having a healthy effect on the livability and viability of our city. (Vancouver has a vacancy rate near zero and 6.2% average annual rental rate increases.) That isn’t a form of sharing I recognize as ethical or desirable.
I sit on the board of Modo Co-operative, which allows 20,000 drivers to share over 600 cars. As a co-operative, there is no private ownership, those cars are a community asset. If Modo were to dissolve, the assets would be bequeathed to another community-owned organization like a not-for-profit. I work for Vancity, where half a million member-owners pool their money for local reinvestment. It is now a $26.4 Billion pool owned by the community, not private ownership. No one profits inequitably from those community resources. That is more in line with what I originally loved about the sharing economy.
So we have discovered home-swapping as a way of truly living out the early (and unfortunately false) promise of the sharing economy. No money changes hands, trust is required and reciprocity is created. I recommend it highly if you need your faith in humanity restored.